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, 44 (9), 4304-4312

Intensified Dust Storm Activity and Valley Fever Infection in the Southwestern United States


Intensified Dust Storm Activity and Valley Fever Infection in the Southwestern United States

Daniel Q Tong et al. Geophys Res Lett.


Climate models have consistently projected a drying trend in the southwestern United States, aiding speculation of increasing dust storms in this region. Long-term climatology is essential to documenting the dust trend and its response to climate variability. We have reconstructed long-term dust climatology in the western United States, based on a comprehensive dust identification method and continuous aerosol observations from the Interagency Monitoring of Protected Visual Environments (IMPROVE) network. We report here direct evidence of rapid intensification of dust storm activity over American deserts in the past decades (1988-2011), in contrast to reported decreasing trends in Asia and Africa. The frequency of windblown dust storms has increased 240% from 1990s to 2000s. This dust trend is associated with large-scale variations of sea surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean, with the strongest correlation with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. We further investigate the relationship between dust and Valley fever, a fast-rising infectious disease caused by inhaling soil-dwelling fungus (Coccidioides immitis and C. posadasii) in the southwestern United States. The frequency of dust storms is found to be correlated with Valley fever incidences, with a coefficient (r) comparable to or stronger than that with other factors believed to control the disease in two endemic centers (Maricopa and Pima County, Arizona).

Keywords: Valley fever; aerosol; air quality; climate; dust; health.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Long‐term variations of dust storm activity over the western United States observed by the IMPROVE network from 1988 to 2011: (a) Numbers of local dust storms (red) and annual means of PM10 concentrations during dusty days recorded from 23 sites from 1988 to 2011. (b) Monthly distribution of dust events in the 1990s and 2000s.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Decadal differences in (a) top layer (0–10 cm) soil moisture in the United States and (b) sea surface temperature (SST) between the 1990s and the 2000s.

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